By Chris Lang
Shift2Neutral, a small Australia-based carbon trading company, has signed REDD-type deals in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil. The total area of these projects is several million hectares. Yet almost nothing is known about this company, and the company chairman, Brett Goldsworthy, is reluctant to answer questions.
Information and questions about Shift2Neutral’s other REDD-type projects are available in previous posts on REDD-Monitor. This post focuses on the company’s operations in the Philippines.
Here’s a timeline of the projects so far:
14 May 2009: Shift2Neutral announces that it has signed an “Agreement with the Tribal Coalition Of Mindanao Incorporated to supply certification services of indigenous rainforest land on the Island of Mindanao Philippines.” A Shift2Neutral spokesperson said that the agreement would protect the forest from mining and illegal logging and “will allow the tribes to receive funds from the sale of the carbon credits, protect their villages, and give a future to their families.”
13 June 2009: Shift2Neutral states that the company is visiting Butuan City, Mindanao in the Philippines “to conduct further pre certification tribal meetings”.
June 2009: Goldsworthy announced on facebook that “Shift2Neutral and the Tribes of Tricom Mindanao formed a Joint Venture Partnership to certify their native land and rainforest under the Avoided Deforestation Certification Solution provided by Shift2Neutral – May – June 2009.” Goldsworthy posted photographs to facebook of the signing ceremony:
July 2009: Goldsworthy announced on facebook that “In July 2009 Shift2Neutral meet with the tribes to go through what is required. An initial survey of land was conducted to ensure our teams knew what was going to be expected.” Photographs show more documents being signed and a banner dated 15 July 2009, welcoming Goldsworthy as Chairman of Shift2Neutral, Robert Hick, Chief Operations Officer, Shift2Neutral Philippines and the Shift2Neutral Pty-Ltd Field Operation Team.
November 2009: Shift2Neutral’s certification team was back in Mindanao. Goldsworthy’s facebook photographs show forest and soil samples. This is, as far as I’m aware, the only publicly available information about the certification process. No methodology, no reports, just dozens of photographs:
23 March 2010: The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Executive Director, Masli Quilaman, released a Memorandum Order, “directing all regional directors to refrain from approving carbon trading projects within ancestral domains until protocol guidelines have been issued by the commission.”
5 April 2010: Shift2Neutral announces that it has signed a another agreement in the Philippines: “Shift2Neutral signs agreement with local Government of Samar Philippines to certify 400,000 hectares of first growth forest and issues credits for certification and sale.”
22 June 2010: Victoriano Vidal, chairman of the Tribal Coalition of Mindanao, wrote to Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, asking whether there was any direct association between the Bank and Shift2Neutral’s carbon trading project. (At the time, Shift2Neutral’s explanation of its certification process included a link to the World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit. This has now been replaced by links to ISO and UNFCCC.)
1 July 2010: Neeraj Prasad, Operations Advisor at the Carbon Finance Unit replied to Vidal stating that “I would like to confirm that we do not have a certification process or protocol that can be followed by an agency outside the Bank. We do not have any association with the ‘Shift 2 Neutral’ company and do not endorse any transactions made or being considered by this company.”
14 July 2010: The Vice Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission, Secretary Heherson Alvarez wrote to Goldsworthy stating that the Commission would recommend to the President that “such carbon credit activities be held in abeyance until we have promulgated the guidelines and the rules addressing this issue… Until such time, we ask you to desist from carrying on carbon credit activities in the Philippines.”
15 July 2010: Shift2Neutral announces that it has finalised “the certification of 1,000,000 hectares of …first growth forest and issues credits for certification for the tribes of Mindanao Philippines.”
13 August 2010: REDD-Monitor writes to Goldsworthy to ask (among other things) how the agreements were reached with the indigenous peoples in the Philippines, and whether a process of free prior and informed consent was carried out. REDD-Monitor also asks for details of Shift2Neutral’s certification process.
20 August 2010: Goldsworthy replies. Unfortunately his response fails to answer the questions and includes a statement much of which was cut and pasted from the website of Avoided Deforestation Partners.
13 November 2010: The Tribal Coalition of Mindanao issues a Customary Law Resolution cancelling the Memorandum of Agreement dated 14 May 2009 with Shift2Neutral. A short video, including TRICOM’s comments about the cancellation, is available on youtube.
17 November 2010: A website, www.shift2nothing.com, is registered. The website includes information on Shift2Neutral’s operations in the Philippines.
REDD-Monitor got in touch with Robert Hick, who had been Chief Operations Officer, Shift2Neutral Philippines. Hick says he has not received any payment for his work for Shift2Neutral in Mindanao and Northern Samar.
Hick is CEO and founder of an Australian roofing tiles company called Nu-Lok. According to an invoice that Hick sent to Goldsworthy, that REDD-Monitor has seen, Hick’s services for Shift2Neutral included:
- “Establish a team for project”
- “Arrange information memorandum and info on carbon credits”
- “Present Seminars”
- “Arrange inspection of suggested land”
- “Arrange private individual briefings with the Governors of the 3 Provinces”
- “Sell the concept of Carbon Credits to the tribes” and
- “Get the NCIP [National Commission on Indigenous Peoples] to sign off on the agreement in record time”
Hick explained that the project on Samar Island was part of a national park and that “other REDD certifiers said being already national park it was not eligible”. The Samar project “never moved forward,” Hick said, “because the person Goldsworthy wanted to con would not work without expenses up front.”
Hick described Shift2Neutral’s certification team as “a motley crew from Malaysia with dubious qualifications.” Goldsworthy had “conned them to pay their own expenses,” Hick told REDD-Monitor by email. They arrived in the Philippines, “with no money, no accommodation, no transport and no equipment,” and were detained on arrival because they had no return flight tickets. Nevertheless, they managed to survey an area of almost one million hectares in Mindanao in 10 days. That was back in November 2009.
Hick reports that on one occasion, villagers asked Goldsworthy when they would see the money from the carbon credits. Goldsworthy didn’t reply, but he did promise money for schools and clinics and asked each tribe for their priorities. He promised motorbikes and rice.
“Months turned into years and nothing but empty promises,” Hick wrote in November 2010. Goldsworthy “confirmed money had been sent for the tribes on numerous occasions,” Hick wrote. “It never turned up. Expenses were never reimbursed, no one was paid. Goldsworthy claimed he had the first US$500 million in his trust account.”
A note on Goldsworthy’s reluctance to answer questions: Several journalists have contacted REDD-Monitor with stories of unsuccessful attempts to interview Goldsworthy. He has declined to answer questions because of the email account a journalist used. He has refused to accept a journalist’s credentials (even after seeing articles written by the journalist). He asked one journalist to remove an article about Shift2Neutral from the website where it was posted. The journalist agreed. Goldsworthy has so far declined to answer REDD-Monitor’s questions, but recently offered to fly to Jakarta to conduct an interview in person. REDD-Monitor has not taken Goldsworthy up on the offer on the grounds that email, telephone or skype are perfectly acceptable low-carbon alternatives to flying.